Brain Booster With Side Effects: Limitless

Brain Booster With Side Effects: Limitless

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Relativity Media 

Release Date (US): March 18th, 2011
Release Date (UK): March 23rd, 2011

Certificate: (UK): 15
Running Time: 105 minutes approx.

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish

NZT Official Site (The Clear Pill)

Film Details (Relativity Media)

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Making a film that lurches between actual science, science fiction, ethics and a bizarre kind of black humour can be a dance on thin ice. Cracks in the story widen easily, and the audience gets thrown into the water. The myth that we are only using a certain percentage of our brains is a particularly tricky subject given its implications, and depending on your point of view, you will either like Limitless a lot or laugh at the rise of a stylish wonderman.

Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, literary inspiration for Limitless, was called “a trenchant morality tale for our manic, avaricious times” (Douglas Kennedy). Limitless (Poster) 2011The movie adaptation comes up to that premise, although with a hefty dose of cinematic lightness.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a guy with chronic writer’s block and “zero future”, gets hold of a new designer drug (NZT, or the Clear Pill) that allows him to tap into his full potential, and turns him from Mr. Nobody into Mr. Uberbrain. He can literally remember everything he’s ever experienced, finishes his novel in 4 days, becomes a poker ace, lounge lizard and Wall Street guru, and last but not least wins back his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) who had already written him off as a loser.

Limitless does not create a new Superman; in fact it takes the superpower myth down a peg or two. Learning a language in a few days and doing maths like a genius is great but in the end it depends on how you use it all, and what kind of guy you are in the first place. The personality issue is something Limitless picks up with some brave twists although the script could have been bolder on the character pitch.

Robert De Niro as super-rich and powerful financier Carl Van Loon (who, with clear intentions, takes Eddie under his wings) is a flattish type, not only missing depth but also verve. Sometimes it felt like De Niro is about to go off but Limitless (2011) Bradley Cooper & Robert De Niroeventually gets thwarted by the pace of the story. The always looming conflict between Morra and Van Loon breaks out badly late in the plot, possibly setting the scene for a sequel where the enmity actually comes to a head.

Playing on the fringe of the story is Eddie’s ex-wife, whose experience with the Clear Pill is a thought-provoker even if Limitless ultimately doesn’t answer the questions it raises here. More drastic is the ironic side blow that comes from a shady loan shark who wants the dope for himself, but even after he’s got it he’s anything but smart – just more efficiently bad, if not evil.

In case you wonder how much brain we are actually using in real life, there may not be an answer. The scientific hard liners are adamant it’s a myth that we are using only a faction of our brains. Others keep believing Einstein said something like this so it must be true. On the other hand, there are phenomena like the Savant Syndrome which suggest that we are not tapping into the full potential of our minds.

The Ten-Percent Myth (Skeptical Inquirer)

Mind-enhancing drugs: Are they a no-brainer? (The Independent)

20 Percent of Scientists Admit Using Brain-Enhancing Drugs — Do You? (WIRED)

Learn about the Savant Syndrome (SavantGo)

Limitless hints at many complications that go along with mind-enhancing drugs, not only the extreme side-effects. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, 2006) took up a subject that is only beginning to reach public awareness. The likes of Ritalin are no news but the fact that they allow users to tap into a lot more of their intellectual potential is still a little disputed enigma – remarkable given the social and legal consequences.

That’s why it would be beside the point to call Limitless just an entertaining version of the old rags-to-riches story. It draws more on the desire of virtually every living person to be extraordinary, extremely smart and fitted with a superpower or two. Making money is maybe the obvious choice of use – at least in this day and age – but this is little more than the scene of the story.

I very much enjoyed the visual style of Limitless, inventive but not pretentious, and translating Eddie’s mental euphoria as well as his dilemma into Albert Einsteincompelling images, especially when Eddie Morra gets in trouble with time and space. Alongside Bradley Cooper’s narration, the film has very strong moments that make it unique in terms of tackling an ambitious subject and not being nerdy or patronizing.

Bradley Cooper portrays both the run-down and the perfect Eddie with well played-out nuances and an expression that is anything but a reverse-engineered Einstein; if not Eddie Morra, but the film certainly pokes its tongue out at you, so to speak. There is this subtle message that a mastermind is not worth much if you lack actual intelligence.

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